LUMBERTON — The Mid-Atlantic Fly-In & Sport Aviation Convention has been temporarily grounded by organizers who say the event can’t remain aloft in the current down economy.
“We didn’t solicit anything from the public as far as assistance, or from any of the county commissioners or the city council,” said Dock Locklear, president of the convention’s board of directors. “It’s just a bad economy … we don’t think we’d have the kind of turnout that we think would be necessary to justify holding the event.”
Last year’s fly-in, scheduled to be the ninth annual and the first to be held in October, failed to take off because of heavy cloud cover that made skies unnavigable. As many as 30,000 people had been expected to attend the event that would have featured World War II airbirds and Team RV, the world’s largest air show team — but Locklear says even that number, at a ticket price of $5, might not have been enough to pay for the two-day event that has historically cost an average of $150,000 to get off the ground.
“In some years we have broke even or made a little bit, but some years we have not been that successful,” he said. “We’ve had some years where we’ve had funds on hand when we started the process and had to have assistance to close it out, and some years where we’ve made a little bit of money.”
Bill Tubbs, a member of the convention’s board of directors, said the event planned for last year had been scaled back in consideration of the economic slump and the anticipation of a small attendance. He said that the convention escaped going into the red after last year’s event “by the skin of its teeth” after paying the stunt pilots and aerobatics teams that were scheduled to perform.
“The way we left it last year was that we wouldn’t do anything this year,” Tubbs said. “And if we were to do it this year, it would be scaled back just because of the cost.”
Tubbs said plans for a future event are up in the air.
“We may end up sitting down and putting this all together and realize that we can’t just get the money together for it, or we may say this is doable, or we may decide that we have to scale it back,” he said. “At this juncture it’s too soon to say how much it would cost or to even ask for any money.”
The Fly-In began in 2003 as part of a statewide celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk. It was so successful it was turned into an annual event.
“I’m hoping that we’ll put our nose to the grindstone and we will have a fly-in next year,” Tubbs said.